Thursday, July 5, 2007

Conceit in the Wild

I worked all day on the Fourth of July. Ah, freelancing! As the day drew to a close, I tried to get excited about fireworks. Not easy in San Francisco. While most of the country is enjoying a warm summer night, hot dogs, watermelon, and sky rockets in flight, July 4 here is all about dressing in layers and watching the fog light up pretty colors. And traffic. And crowds. And braving hills and frigid winds. So after pasta and a glass of wine, the couch and Robot Chicken was looking pretty good. I coulda drifted off to sleep were it not for some awfully large explosions awfully close to my living room window. I might not be going to the fireworks, but the fireworks were coming to me. I stepped outside.

I live in the Mission District. It's a hugely diverse neighborhood that crosses class and ethnic lines without thinking about it. And tonight the Mission was alive. Huge fireworks zoomed into the sky from backyards. Moms set off roman candles for their kids in the middle of intersections. Car alarms wailed. Smoky paper rained down from the sky. Police cruisers zoomed by lights flashing, unsure who to make an example of. The Fourth of July was everywhere. Unstoppable. It was the best fourth I've had in years.

I'd been thinking of blogging about 'conceit' -- which is a literary term for the strategy a writer takes, or, more broadly, the quality of a thing that makes it instantly recognizable. (It's got nothing to do with 'conceited'. It is related to 'concept'.) Conceit is an important concept for a screenwriter to understand, because it helps you frame your story, and to come up with fairly objective ways of improving it. Conceit also exists in the real world, of course. I thought I might talk about the reigning masters of conceit (in both meanings): Apple. Conceit is what makes an iMac seem special next to a similarly equipped PC. It's what drove the design of the iPhone and the iPod. They are instantly recognizable and unique. Their conceit is worked to completion -- you know when you're holding an Apple product.

But this July 4 made me think. What was so special this time? Why wasn't I concerned about the gang members launching M-80's? Why WERE those normally conservative mothers setting off illegal fireworks for 8-year-olds? Where the hell did the people up the street get those pro-level fireworks, and were they going to set my house on fire?

For me, this evening's conceit was much closer to what I think July 4 should be. Rebellion. Independence. Community -- a whole neighborhood out in the streets. The smell of the powder. A bit of danger. Really, really loud booms. That's what brought this country into being.

As M-80's exploded two doors down, I thought about war zones, and the fact that this is probably as close as I need to get. I thought about Iraq and the Fourth of July. How this country was born in fire and is probably doomed to look to war as a solution to its problems. The conceit of the night was all tied up in jubilation and fire. And I understood my country a little deeper. I understood the depth of my love for it more. It reminded me that true love -- of country, spouse, family -- is made up of many conflicting things.

Conceit is why this fourth was special. The conceit was complete -- from 1776 until today, right now, in front of my house. Conceit sets off a process in the viewer's mind. Conceit is powerful.

It's also elusive, and I'll talk about how to locate it in future posts.

1 comment:

Janis said...

I was up on a hill near twin peaks overlooking the mission. It was amazing to watch, better than the paid-for-with-tax-dollars fireworks. Although, as I sat on in the middle of a field of dry grass, each pop would bring a flash of "fire danger" in my mind.